By Jill Tucker, for SF Gate. November 1, 2017
Oakland parents and community activists called on school officials Wednesday (November 1) to adopt a policy that ensures students have access to safe drinking water, an outcry spurred by test results showing faucets at seven school sites had high levels of lead.
“We’re talking about the water in schools being dangerous to our kids,” said Vien Truong, CEO of The Dream Corps / Green For All, and an Oakland mother whose child is in kindergarten. “Our families already have too much to worry about — they shouldn’t have to fear drinking water at schools.”
School board member Roseann Torres said she expects the panel to vote before the end of the year on setting testing requirements and possibly reducing allowable lead levels in school drinking water.
“Schools were built in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s,” Torres said. “We know we have pipes that are very old.”
Test results released to The Chronicle last week showed that taps at seven Oakland schools dispensed water with lead levels higher than the 15 parts per billion allowed under federal guidelines. A kitchen tap at the temporary site of Glenview Elementary School near the Emeryville border dispensed water containing 60 parts per billion.
“This is an emergency,” Sylvester Hodges, a former school board member, said at a news conference in City Hall. “It’s time for some action.”
The district is testing water taps at its other schools as quickly as possible, said spokesman John Sasaki. He said the taps where lead levels exceeded the federal limits have either been fixed or are off limits.
“We know we have a sense of urgency to get this right,” Torres said.
Representatives of the consumer rights group CalPIRG and other activists called on the district to replace all pipes and fixtures that contain lead, which could include any plumbing installed before 2010. They also asked for filters on drinking water taps and regular testing for lead.
Torres said she’d like to follow the example set by the San Diego school district, where officials limit lead levels to a maximum of 5 parts per billion rather than the 15 set by federal guidelines.
Some activists maintain that no amount of lead exposure is safe for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school water contain less than 1 part per billion of lead, said Jason Pfeifle, a CalPIRG health advocate.
Lead is a toxic metal that can cause irreversible neurological and brain damage, including lowering a child’s IQ, said Dr. Noemi Spinazzi, a pediatric physician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.
“It gets stored in the bones, it gets stored in the liver, it gets stored in the brain,” she said at the news conference. “Even at low levels, it leads to lower IQ.”
Many other districts have been grappling with the lead issue since the state launched a voluntary program in January allowing for free testing of five taps at each school by the local water utility.
San Francisco found three school sites with elevated levels of lead, including one water fountain in the San Francisco International High School gym that had 860 parts per billion. Schools in San Mateo, Napa, Sacramento and San Bernardino counties also have found elevated levels.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last month that will require all schools to test for lead before 2019.